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Check Guardian's editorial

Trinidad and Tobago had been in a state of suspense for 14 days. Basdeo Panday and his Cabinet colleagues had been holding on to their posts until a new Prime Minister was appointed and his government had taken office.

Following the general election in 2000 and its close result, it was nine days before President Arthur NR Robinson reappointed Mr Panday as Prime Minister. This year, with the even closer result, the parties winning 18 seats each, the President acknowledged a burden he would have preferred to avoid in deciding who should lead the government.

President Robinson deserves credit for his frank assessment of the constitutional dilemma that confronted him. He could have announced merely that he had selected Mr Manning without giving any reasons. This would have been unsatisfactory. It would have set off a great debate replete with constitutional misunderstandings and, no doubt, a deep descent into personalities.

But by emphasising that the basis for his selection of Patrick Manning as Prime Minister was the constitutional imperative that "freedom is founded on moral and spiritual values and the rule of law," President Robinson set the stage last night for a controversy he might have avoided.

The implication here is that, in the President's view, Mr Manning is more likely to adhere to these tenets than Mr Panday.

Indeed, President Robinson telegraphed his choice of Mr Manning from the first two minutes of his address. He spoke of wishing to compliment the two party leaders, "the then Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition," for reaching an agreement to ensure the stability of the country in the national interest.

In these words, the President indicated what nobody else but Mr Manning and Mr Panday and no doubt their closest associates would have known up to the time of his address-that he had made up his mind.

The likelihood is that the President will not escape unscathed. Yes, the decision placed a heavy burden on his shoulders. And, yes, it was a responsibility he could not shirk.

The President recognised in his address that the person not chosen, in this case, Mr Panday, and his followers and supporters would be disappointed.

Today and tomorrow, when the President's remarks concerning the importance of recognising moral and spiritual values in the person of the Prime Minister sink through, they will be much more than disappointed. Likely they will be angered that Mr Robinson put these values on the scale and Mr Panday was found wanting.

How this will affect the agreement between Mr Manning and Mr Panday remains to be seen. It was they who placed the President in the invidious position and they who pledged support for whatever decision he reached on the issue of appointing the Prime Minister.

The agreement has sought to insulate the executive from the differences of opinion between the two sides of the House of Representatives in some of the debates that will take place on Mr Manning's programmes and no doubt his policy initiatives.

But Mr Manning and his colleagues will be unable to ignore clashes of opinion, certain to take place in a Parliament featuring equality of membership on both the Government and Opposition benches. Pledges to adhere to agreement might well fall down if, for instance, Mr Manning introduces legislation or a resolution based on an issue on which they did not find agreement.

Yet these are early days. Much will depend on Mr Panday's reaction to the President's comments.

A great responsibility also falls upon Mr Manning to show inclusiveness and bigness of heart. His choice of Senators (he has already indicated that Glenda Morean will be Attorney General) would do much to determine whether he will pack the Upper House with party hacks or whether he will seek to introduce quality rather than quantity to support his initiatives.

This coming week will be an anxious one.The stability of Trinidad and Tobago depends to a large extent to the degree of statesmanship exercised by the two leaders and their supporters inside and outside Parliament.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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